1. David X. Cohen, who developed Futurama with Matt Groening, was a superstar mathlete.
Cohen was co-captain of the mathematics team at Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood, New Jersey. The team became state champions in 1984. This picture appeared the same year in his high school yearbook.
2. David X. Cohen has published mathematical research on the pancake sorting problem.
The problem concerns reordering a stack of pancakes so that the largest is at the bottom and the smallest at the top. Bill Gates’s only mathematical paper is on this same topic.
3. Writer Ken Keeler earned a PhD in applied mathematics with the snappily titled doctoral thesis “Map Representations and Optimal Encoding for Image Segmentation.”
4. For the “Prisoner of Benda”, Ken Keeler invented a new theorem in order to resolve a plot point.
This picture shows Ken in the Futurama offices writing up his theorem in order to help the animators. The episode’s plot involves an orgy of mind-switching between various characters, and the theorem explains what is required to unmuddle the minds.
5. The Futurama theorem (or Keeler’s theorem) has inspired other mathematical research.
Mathematicians at the University of California, San Diego, are publishing a paper titled “Keeler’s Theorem and Products of Distinct Transpositions” in American Mathematical Monthly.
6. Writer Jeff Westbrook has an Erdös-Bacon number of 6, close to the world record.
He has an Erdös number of 3, having published a mathematical paper with Robert Tarjan, who co-authored a paper with Maria Klawe, who wrote a paper with the great Paul Erdös.
His Bacon number is 3, having been in Master and Commander with Russell Crowe, who was in The Quick and the Dead with Gary Sinise, who co-starred with Kevin Bacon in Apollo 13.
7. Westbrook reinvented the mathematical text autokey cipher in order to create an alien script for the series.
He also used a simpler substitution cipher for a second alien script.
8. J. Stewart Burns and Ken Keeler spent hours designing Madison Cube Garden.
Burns and Keeler investigated the possible cross-sections of a cube and discovered that a particular slice results in a hexagonal cross-section. This shape marks the divide between the lower seating and upper transparent roof.
9. Eric Kaplan fought to keep a reference to early computer language BASIC in the episode “Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch”.
Kif describes how he built his Holo-shed for Amy: “I programmed it in for you. Four million lines of BASIC!” A non-mathematician claimed that the reference to BASIC (Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) was too obscure for the general audience. Kaplan simply said: “F**k, ‘em”. His philosophy was that viewers who missed an arcane reference would laugh at the next joke.
Excerpted from The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets.
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